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Types of Conflict in Two Stories, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1284

Essay

Introduction

Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour appears at first to be a completely different kind of story that William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily. Chopin’s story is a very brief one, nearly an anecdote, and it mostly centers around the thoughts of Mrs. Mallard, the heroine. Faulkner’s story is much longer in both the writing, and in the timing of relating Emily Grierson’s life and death. Chopin covers an hour, and Faulkner deals with several generations.

In addition to these differences in style and length, the conflicts within each story also appear to be very different ones. The Story of an Hour has only one thing to say: that Mrs. Mallard is stunned by the sudden conflict within her. Faulkner’s Emily, on the other hand, seems like a monolithic force in conflict with society, or her town. However, both stories are essentially conflicts of two women confronting their own lives.

The Story of an Hour

Chopin sets up her very short story almost like a newspaper account, although one very gently written, and this sets the stage for the conflict which so soon after grips her. Her husband has been killed and the family is concerned about breaking the news to her. On hearing the news, the woman breaks down completely, but this is very quickly done with. Chopin has a point to make, and she loses no time in getting Mrs. Mallard up the stairs and alone in her room.

From the moment the heroine is by herself, sitting at a window and staring, Chopin holds the conflict off to the side, waiting for the right moment to bring it forward. The author teases the reader, and she can get away with it because it will not last very long. This device also works because Chopin has Mrs. Mallard in the same position the reader is; something is coming upon her, but she can only wait for it to reveal itself: “But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.”

When it comes to her, it is the knowledge that her husband’s death sets her free, and this explodes in a realistic and brief internal conflict. Mrs. Mallard knows that there is something shocking in feeling this way, but any guilt she would have is overwhelmed by the life she has led, and her relief at this wonderful change. Part of her even seems to want to feel bad, but the sense of finally being free is too large. Her conflict is a personal one, a struggle with herself, but it is not much of a battle.

In a story so short, Chopin manages to get in a few necessary and helpful touches to reinforce the conflict. The story would have suffered if Chopin had let the reader believe that the husband was a monster. It would have been too easy, and this would also have destroyed the small conflict there is. Instead, the reader learns that the husband was even loved by Mrs. Mallard, though not often and not with much cause. His death is not the death of a horrible man, but it is clearly the best thing that could happen for her, and her joy is overwhelming.

It is almost too bad that Chopin ends the brief story with the twist of having the husband be alive, after all, because it overshadows the conflict just presented. This device does set up a good mental projection of what is to come for Mrs. Mallard, but it also strips the story of some of its real, subtle power. It is enough, basically, that the reader see a very short and personal explosion of conflict within the heroine. This alone has all the force the story needs to succeed as a moving, captured hour in a woman’s life.

A Rose For Emily

In Faulkner’s story, there are layers and levels of conflict that appear from the very first line: “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house…” Right away, the reader hears the voice of a removed narrator and can detect traces of resentment in it.

As the story begins to move on, the conflict most apparent is that of the person fighting society. Emily Grierson spends many years in defying the town about the paying of her taxes, and all of this is important because it reveals both Emily’s Southern aristocratic pretensions, and how the town views them, and her. There is conflict even within this, as the town is divided. They respect her holding to family pride and traditions, but they are also outraged by her arrogance.

Other conflicts, past and present, begin to reveal themselves. The reader learns that Miss Emily’s father was most likely responsible for her never marrying while young, because no young man was good enough for the family. Then, and in a more subtle way, Faulkner conveys more of the conflicted feelings all the neighbors have about Emily. They are truly torn, both wanting to see her brought down to a realistic level, but also wanting to protect her illusions of a Southern grandeur long gone.

Emily’s external conflicts with the town are several, and they have very definite shape. First, there is the matter of the taxes she refuses to pay, and the town’s ambivalence in how to treat her allows her to have her way. Then, there is a strong and bad smell coming from her house, and the neighbors again seek to have the authorities confront her about it. As with the taxes, the conflict fades because no one is willing to challenge Miss Emily: “Dammit, sir,” Judge Stevens said, “will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?”

Eventually, romantic conflict of a kind is presented, as Emily seems to be involved with a man named Homer. This conflict, however, is made all hearsay because the narrator, like the town, does not really know anything of what is going on between them. There are mysterious disappearances by Homer, then he returns, and then the town has no evidence of anything else occurring because the couple never show themselves. Only later is it revealed that Homer has been lying dead in Emily’s bedroom for many years. There is evidence – a strand of her gray hair – that suggests that she lied by his side until her own death.

What comes from this is a romantic conflict at its worst. Faulkner strongly presents the story as that of Emily murdering the man who was going to leave her, and of her taking a gruesome path to securing him forever. This, however, only serves to reflect the greater conflict, and the one which has been at the center of all the others: Emily’s conflict with her own past and life. Everything that happens in the story is essentially a result of this single battle.

Conclusion

Emily Grierson and Mrs. Mallard, while seeming to be women facing completely different sets of conflicts, are actually very much the same, in terms of internal struggle. One fights a silent, long war with a life that has frustrated her to madness, and the other enjoys a moment’s freedom from a life she desperately wants changed.

In examining both Faulkner’s and Chopin’s stories of conflict, the reality comes out that conflict itself is a personal, internal issue. The women in question act and react as their circumstances lay out, and in obviously different ways. Most importantly, Emily Grierson maneuvers around her conflicts, while Mrs. Mallard faces her own. Ultimately, however, both stories are essentially conflicts of two women confronting themselves.

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